Remember when software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte body-slammed the Guardian US journalist Ben Jacobs last year, during a special election that Gianforte subsequently won, making him a Montana congressman?
President Donald Trump remembers, and he referenced the episode approvingly on Thursday ahead of one of his rallies in Montana, where Gianforte is running again in the midterms. The Guardian is less than amused.
“Never wrestle him. Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of…he’s my guy,” Trump said, as quoted by The Hill. “I said, ‘Well wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him,’ and it did…He’s a great guy and a tough cookie.”
“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” said John Mulholland, the editor of the Guardian‘s U.S. operation, in a statement.
Trump has certainly agitated against the press for a long time, but he has never gone so far as to praise someone for attacking a reporter before.
His words came as investigations continued over the alleged murder in Istanbul of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. Trump finally acknowledged on Thursday that “it certainly looks like” Khashoggi was dead, and said the Saudis would face “severe” consequences if they were proved to be responsible, as is alleged by Turkey.
In this context, Mulholland said, Trump’s praise of Gianforte “runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats.”
Following his 2017 assault of Jacobs, which broke the reporter’s glasses, Gianforte donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as per the terms of his settlement with Jacobs.